The ‘Shock Troops’
In the 20-plus years since, homebrewers have been what author Michael Jackson calls the “the shock troops of the beer revolution.” They provided both a customer base for fledging breweries and brewpubs, and a training ground for most of the brewers who manned the kettles. It hardly seems like coincidence that there are about 1,500 more breweries now than there were when homebrewing was legalized.
“The current (post-Jimmy Carter) generation originally brewed to make styles of beer they could not find in the US,” said Jackson, who like Eckhardt has been around to chronicle much of the change. “The brewing of classic styles, and the adventurous approaches that have developed since, were almost unknown in other countries. To a great extent, they still are.”
Homebrewers can be pedantic when defining styles, precise when focusing on the engineering of beer equipment, anal when following process, and as demanding as any piano teacher—yet in the end, there is always beer. “You know in your heart, beer is not serious,” Eckhardt said. “It is what you drink when you want to be sociable.”
Many hobbyists brew alone, but the best stories about homebrewing revolve around those sociable moments. For instance:
• Eight members of the Tribe, a Longmont, CO, homebrew club, set what they are certain is some kind of record in August 1997 when they brewed a batch of beer at 14,433 feet. The six-man, two-woman, two-dog team carried all brewing equipment, beer ingredients and water up to the summit of Mount Elbert (the highest peak in Colorado), brewed a batch of barley wine, and carried everything back down. For this they get credit for brewing beer at the highest recorded elevation ever in the Western Hemisphere.
• When Katherine Glazen and Andy Cutko were married in Glastonbury, CT, all the brewers in attendance brought homebrew for the reception. The offerings included Union Ale, Paramour Alt, Love Potions Number One and Two, and Kiss Me Kate. There were more than a dozen cases of homebrewed beer. The bride returned the favor by giving all the brewers bags of hops grown on her Connecticut farm.
• When astronaut-homebrewer Bill Readdy blasted into space in 1992 for mission STS-42 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery, he carried an unofficial package, a bag with 9 ounces of Cascades hops. Another passenger on that flight, Dr. John Boyce of the University of British Columbia, was a regular at Spinnakers Brewpub in Victoria, BC, and was able to make arrangement to have a beer brewed with the hops that circled the earth 128 times. All the members of the STS-42 were on hand for a special tapping.
Join the Club
The Maltose Falcons, based in Woodland Hills, CA, was the first club anybody knows about and certainly is the oldest active club. When Eckhardt began publishing the Amateur Brewer in 1976, he sought out club news. He heard only from the Falcons, who were established in 1974, and a club in Saudi Arabia.
The Falcons first worked to get homebrewing legalized in California, then with Cranston on the national legislation. They organized events, hosted demonstrations, won awards, and sent several members into the professional brewing community. Ken Grossman, co-founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., John Maier, brew master at Rogue Ales in Newport, OR, and Alex Puchner, director of brewing for the BJ’s chain, are just three of many.
Not only did the Falcons set a standard for excellence, they also chose their name well, mixing brewing nomenclature and their location near Hollywood. Thus inspired, hundreds of wonderful club names followed. It would be hard enough to pick a favorite 100, and impossible to pick a top 10, so here are just a few:
• Suds of the Pioneers, Bisbee, AZ
• Yeast of Eden in Costa Mesa, CA
• The Barley Literates Homebrew Club of Escondido, CA
• Iowa Brewers Union (IBUs) in the Des Moines area
• Boneyard Union of Zymurgical Zealots (BUZZ) in Champaign, IL, where the Boneyard is a creek that runs through part of the University of Illinois campus
• Mystic Krewe of Brew in Mandeville, LA
• Chesapeake Real Ale Brewers Society (CRABS) in Columbia, MD
• In Michigan, the Keweenaw Real Ale Enthusiasts United for Serious Experimentation in Naturally Effervescent Refreshment Science (KRAEUSENERS) in Calumet, and Brewers Union of Zealous Zymurgists Homebrewing Over Pints Supreme (BUZZHOPS) of Battle Creek
• Brew Free or Die in Merrimack, NH
• Brewbonic Plague, Libatious Anarchistic Mashers of Buffalo’s Inner City (LAMBIC) and Sultans of Swig, all of Buffalo, NY
• Last of the Brewhicans, in Corinth, NY
• In North Carolina, the Outer Banks Grain and Yeast Necromancers (OBGYN) in Corolla had to go some to match two Research Triangle clubs: Cary-Apex-Raleigh Brewers of Yore (CARBOY) and Triangle’s Unabashed Homebrewers (TRUB)
• High Plains Draughters in Oklahoma City Green Bay Rackers in Green Bay, WI
• Brewers United for Real Potables (BURP) in Washington, DC